Irony in Ice Cube’s Song “Us”

CD:
Ice Cube

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Rating:
4
On February 11, 2015
Last modified:February 16, 2017

Summary:

Ice Cube's Death Certificate is an exposition of the black community, America and humanity generally. It includes elements of politics, social issues and the usual tinge of gangsterism.

I’ve covered the subject of whether Ice Cube is racist in a previous article here. Looking at his work from Death Certificate, I came to the conclusion that his songs were well-fashioned expositions of the Black community, humanity in general and America in particular. One way that this is made clear is in the various contradictions in the songs. For instance, as a quick and dirty example, complaining about racism while being racist. We human beings are a hypocritical bunch. I think Ice Cube exposes that fact.

By Adam Bielawski (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The song “Us” in particular is both a scathing review of the Black community and America and also full of irony.

Let’s break it down.

I’m going to skip around a bit with the lyrics, considering some of the lines that I think are most important for this examination.

First we have these lines:

We can’t enjoy ourselves
Too busy jealous… Of each other’s wealth
Comin’ up is just in me
But the Black community is full of envy
Too much back-stabbin’
While I look out the window I see all the japs grabbin’
Every vacant lot in my neighborhood
Build a store, and sell their goods
To the county recips
You know us po niggas: nappy hair and big lips?

There is the obvious irony and hypocrisy of pointing out racism while being racist, but I think it goes a bit deeper. He first exclaims that the Black community is envious of him because he wants success; then he enviously talks about Asians coming into the neighborhood to set up shop. Justified or not, both things he refers to are envy. The lines that follow proceed with even finer irony:

Four or five babies on your crotch
And you expect Uncle Sam to help us out?
We ain’t nothin’ but porchmonkeys
To the average bigot, redneck honky

While exposing what he thinks of Asians, he in the next breath exposes what whites think of Blacks. Irony, indeed. At the same time, he chastises Asians for their greed he also speaks on the expectation of getting welfare when you’re not responsible enough to control your gonads. Both things are forms of greed; using a neighborhood for your profit, expecting to get something for nothing and even if you’re irresponsible. It’s almost as if everyone is doing the same thing, their colors are coincidental. Of course, there are different degrees of misery.

daluved1, deviantART. Some rights reserved.

daluved1, deviantART. Some rights reserved.

In the third verse, the irony gets richer with Cube’s illustration of the hypocrisy of violence in this instance:

US … will always sing the blues
‘Cause all we care about is hairstyles and tennis shoes
But if ya step on mine ya pushed the button
“Cause I’ll beat you down like it ain’t nothin’
Just like a beast
But I’m the first nigga ta holler out {PEACE, BLACK MAN}
I beat my wife and children to a pulp
When I get drunk and smoke dope
Got a bad heart condition
Still eat hog-mogs an’ chitlin’s
Bet my money on the dice and the horses
Jobless, so I’m a hope for the armed forces

The whole idea that one would say Peace and also be willing to brutalize someone is a real fact for humanity. Cube here, intentionally or not, is pointing to humanity, with all of our peace and non-violence rhetoric that we spew while we brutalize each other daily. Of course, he makes full reference to self-destruction here, people killing themselves with drugs and pork and being so desperate and miserable they’d join the military just to survive. This is a very clear indictment of our society. But that’s obvious. I don’t know if there’s much play with irony there. There is also more reference to greed and materialism in the Black community, quite well placed after complaining about Asians’ greed.

Finally, the ultimate statement of the whole song is the last line:

Now this is just a little summary
Of US, but yall think it’s dumb of me
To put a mirror to ya face, but trust
Nobody gives a fuck about…

Interestingly, Ice Cube makes it clearer who he’s referring to in the song, who he’s really talking about. Of course, Cube means that nobody cares about us, including us.

And therein lies the whole problem.

Death-Certificate-cover

To get Ice Cube’s ground-breaking album “Death Certificate” which includes the song “Us”, click on image above.

 

Featured image: Ilias Theodoropoulos, Flickr. Some rights reserved.

 

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